Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Charpentier Histoires sacrées, staged - London Baroque Festival

Marc-Antoine Charpentier Histoires sacrées with Ensemble Correspondances, conducted by Sébastien Daucé, at St John's Smith Square, part of the London Festival of the Baroque 2018. This striking staging, by Vincent Huguet, brought out its austere glory: every bit a treasure of the Grand Siècle, though this grandeur was dedicated not to Sun God but to God.

Aïda in Seattle: don’t mention the war!

When Francesca Zambello presented Aïda at her own Glimmerglass Opera in 2012, her staging was, as they say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” Fighter planes strafed the Egyptian headquarters as the curtain rose, water-boarding was the favored form of interrogation, Radames was executed by lethal injection.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2018 opens with Annilese Miskimmon's Madama Butterfly

As the bells rang with romance from the tower of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the rolling downs of Sussex - which had just acquired a new Duke - echoed with the strains of a rather more bitter-sweet cross-cultural love affair. Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2018 season opened with Annilese Miskimmon’s production of Madama Butterfly, first seen during the 2016 Glyndebourne tour and now making its first visit to the main house.

Remembering Debussy

This concert might have been re-titled Remembrance of Musical Times Past: the time, that is, when French song, nurtured in the Proustian Parisian salons, began to gain a foothold in public concert halls. But, the madeleine didn’t quite work its magic on this occasion.

A chiaroscuro Orfeo from Iestyn Davies and La Nuova Musica

‘I sought to restrict the music to its true purpose of serving to give expression to the poetry and to strengthen the dramatic situations, without interrupting the action or hampering it with unnecessary and superfluous ornamentations. […] I believed further that I should devote my greatest effort to seeking to achieve a noble simplicity; and I have avoided parading difficulties at the expense of clarity.’

Lessons in Love and Violence: powerful musical utterances but perplexing dramatic motivations

‘What a thrill -/ My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone/ Except for a sort of hinge/ Of skin,/ A flap like a hat,/ Dead white. Then that red plush.’ Those who imagined that Sylvia Plath (‘Cut’, 1962) had achieved unassailable aesthetic peaks in fusing pain - mental and physical - with beauty, might think again after seeing and hearing this, the third, collaboration between composer George Benjamin and dramatist/librettist Martin Crimp: Lessons in Love and Violence.

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot: Sabine Devieilhe at Wigmore Hall

Always in demand on French and international stages, the French soprano Sabine Devieihle is, fortunately, becoming an increasingly frequent visitor to these shores. Her first appearance at Wigmore Hall was last month’s performance of works by Handel with Emmanuelle Haïm’s Le Concert d’Astrée. This lunchtime recital, reflecting the meetings of music and minds which took place at Parisian salon of the nineteenth-century mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), was her solo debut at the venue.

Jesus Christ Superstar at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago is now featuring as its spring musical Jesus Christ Superstar with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The production originated with the Regent’s Park Theatre, London with additional scenery by Bay Productions, U.K. and Commercial Silk International.

Persephone glows with life in Seattle

As a figure in the history of 20th century art, few deserve to be closer to center stage than Ida Rubenbstein. Without her talent, determination, and vast wealth, Ravel’s Boléro, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastien, Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and Stravinsky’s Perséphone would not exist.

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

One trusts the banquet following the world premiere of La concordia de’ pianeti proffered some spicy flavors, because Pietro Pariati’s text is so cloying it causes violent stomach-churning. In contrast, Antonio Caldara’s music sparkles and dances like a blaze of crystal chandeliers.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2018

The 63rd Competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018 was an unusually ‘home-grown’ affair. Last year’s Final had brought together singers from the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe, the US and beyond, but the six young singers assembled at Wigmore Hall on Friday evening all originated from the UK.

Affecting and Effective Traviata in San Jose

Opera San Jose capped its consistently enjoyable, artistically accomplished 2017-2018 season with a dramatically thoughtful, musically sound rendition of Verdi’s immortal La traviata.

Brahms Liederabend

At his best, Matthias Goerne does serious (ernst) at least as well as anyone else. He may not be everyone’s first choice as Papageno, although what he brings to the role is compelling indeed, quite different from the blithe clowning of some, arguably much closer to its fundamental sadness. (Is that not, after all, what clowns are about?) Yet, individual taste aside, whom would one choose before him to sing Brahms, let alone the Four Serious Songs?

Angel Blue in La Traviata

One of the most beloved operas of all time, Verdi’s “ La Traviata” has never lost its enduring appeal as a tragic tale of love and loss, as potent today as it was during its Venice premiere in 1853.

Matthias Goerne and Seong-Jin Cho at Wigmore Hall

Is it possible, I wonder, to have too much of a ‘good thing’? Baritone Matthias Goerne can spin an extended vocal line and float a lyrical pianissimo with an unrivalled beauty that astonishes no matter how many times one hears and admires the evenness of line, the controlled legato, the tenderness of tone.

Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis

Madness - or perhaps, more widely, insanity - in opera goes back centuries. In Handel’s Orlando (1733) it’s the dimension of a character’s jealousy and betrayal that drives him to the state of delusion and madness. Mozart, in Idomeneo, treats Electra’s descent into mania in a more hostile and despairing way. Foucault would probably define these episodic operatic breakdowns as “melancholic”, ones in which the characters are powerless rather than driven by acts of personal violence or suicide.

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Stefania Dovhan as Adina and Meredith Lustig as Giannetta [Photo by Carol Rosegg courtesy of New York City Opera]
04 Apr 2011

L’Elisir d’Amore

Donizetti described to his father the premiere cast of L’Elisir in terms of lukewarm praise—the tenor only “passable” the soprano’s voice “pretty” and the bass “a little hammy.”

L’Elisir d’Amore

Adina: Stefania Dovhan; Giannetta: Meredith Lustig; Nemorino: David Lomeli; Belcore: José Adán Pérez; Dulcamara: Marco Nisticò. Brad Cohen, Conductor. Jonathan Miller, Production Designer. Isabella Bywater, Set/Costume Designer. New York City Opera, March 26, 2011.

Above: Stefania Dovhan as Adina and Meredith Lustig as Giannetta

All photos by Carol Rosegg courtesy of New York City Opera

 

(Doubtful, though, is Emilia Branca’s tale that Donizetti complained of a Dulcamara with a “voice like a goat.”) Notwithstanding the shortcomings of the singers, the score won the day.

Could it have been otherwise? L’Elisir is so ingenious, so bubbly, so amusing—and at the same time so moving and heartfelt—that it proved a huge and instantaneous success. It charged confidently into the international repertory and never lost steam. Nearly two centuries later, it’s still almost impossible to botch L’Elisir beyond redemption. And so it is with New York City Opera’s production: carried by Donizetti’s brilliant music, Romani’s witty and singable verses, an attractive production, and a much more than “passable” tenor, the performance I attended delighted even as it disappointed.

To a modern audience, the American Southwest during the 1950s seems a remote and idyllic time, and Jonathan Miller’s 2006 production therefore neatly fit the spirit of the piece; every detail was skillfully thought out and Isabella Bywater’s sets and costumes were a delight. The locus is Adina’s Diner, the gathering place of choice for a desert community near a military base. Dulcamara rolls up to the gas pumps in a vintage hotrod, sporting spectator shoes; Nemorino wears mechanics togs; the chorus consists of greasers, fry cooks, soldiers and women in poodle-skirts and cat-eyed glasses. Adina is a sort of Marilyn Monroe, Giannetta a less prominent Maureen O’Hara. Belcore struts around in a Marine uniform and indulges in Elvis-like pelvic gyrations.

The direction of this revival left much to be desired, and seemed motivated more by a desire for cheap laughs than by an understanding and appreciation of the text. As Donizetti’s biographer William Ashbrook observed, the most groundbreaking feature of L’Elisir is that it is not mere slapstick, and its lieto fine occurs because Adina realizes Nemorino’s true goodness and sincerity; L’Elisir succeeds because there is real emotional depth here.

With all this in mind, let it be admitted that Nemorino is not the sharpest knife in the drawer; but for Romani he is a gullible, uneducated country lad with a big heart. In the Miller production he is painted as borderline developmentally disabled. He claps gleefully, jogs in place, bats imaginary balls and jumps up and down as if he were five years old, much of the time wearing a dopey expression. In line with disturbing current trends, excessive stage action often interferes with some of the most important musical and dramatic moments. During Adina’s solo in “Chiedi all’aura lusinghiera,” Nemorino unwittingly spills salt, tossing handfuls around as Adina tries frantically to clean it up. During her duet with Dulcamara (dramatically the turning point of the opera), Adina reaches so deeply into his pocket that his expression plainly tells us where her hand has wandered. In the women’s chorus that begins Act II, a toilet flushes as they stand in line waiting for the restroom, provoking a few nervous scatological giggles; later Nemorino, sickened by his excessive consumption of the “elixir,” runs to the same bathroom to be sick.

Elixir0040.pngStefania Dovhan as Adina and David Lomelí as Nemorino

This is all a shame, but even this cloud of directorial dust, tenor David Lomeli was able to show Nemorino’s passionate nature, his innocence and his vulnerability. Indeed, only his artistry raised the afternoon out of vocal mediocrity. Lomeli never lost sight of what makes Nemorino such a sympathetic character, even as he acted the fool. He sang a wistful “Quanto e bella,” and his impassioned solo passage, “Adina, credimi,” in the first act finale tugged at the heartstrings. An achingly tender, beautifully shaped “Una furtiva lagrima” earned him the loudest cheers of the evening. Lomeli has a lovely, light voice with varying colors and a good sense of how to use dynamic shading; there is a beautiful, genuine Italianate squillo there too. He warmed up quickly after a slightly underpowered start, and hit his stride with full confidence by the time of his duet with Dulcamara.

As Adina, Stefania Dovhan was less than ideal casting. She is physically very attractive, and the voice is intermittently beautiful and expressive, but on the whole it is too harsh and inflexible for the role. Her voice doesn’t have much color; her acuti, while on pitch, were rather grating, and she does not handle coloratura cleanly. Though there were isolated moments of real feeling, for the most part it was a flat, rather riskless portrayal; the shift from fickle and vindictive vixen to loving fiancée was a bit too abrupt and not very convincing.

Elixir0043.pngStefania Dovhan as Adina and Marco Nisticò as Dulcamara

As for José Adán Pérez’s Belcore and Marco Nisticò’s Dulcamara, all their comic silent-movie face-pulling and pelvic thrusts couldn’t hide the fact that they sounded vocally undernourished and fudged the coloratura. In his duet with Lomeli, Nisticò’s vocal line drowned beneath his partner’s. Brad Cohen conducted a brisk if at times somewhat hurried performance. The orchestra sounded marvelous but for one horn mishap. The chorus was well-rehearsed and in fine form.

Daniel Foley

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):